White Ribbon Alliance



May 16, 2014
At this meeting with the Royal Society of Medicine in collaboration with the White Ribbon Alliance, WRA’s Global Champion Sarah Brown spoke about progress and challenges for girls and women around the world ahead of next month’s publication of the State of the World’s Midwifery Report and on the eve of the launch of the new Lancet series on midwifery and IPPF’s I DECIDE campaign.

Extracts from Sarah Brown’s speech

“We have seen maternal deaths reduced by half in recent years – now we have to tackle the other half! We must look more widely beyond immediate healthcare provision to issues like accountability, child marriage, access to education and gender rights. We must tackle not only lack of equipment and trained health professionals, but lack of understanding of what is needed by women, lack of education and of a voice to ask for change.

Advocacy and campaigning make such a crucial difference to how the big changes happen. The maternal mortality campaign coordinated by the White Ribbon Alliance led the way, and the results show a 47% drop in maternal death.

And right now we are witnessing again the way that campaigning – and amplifying global voices – can bring about changes in the wake of the terrible abduction of the Chibok girls in North East Nigeria. People have questioned the impact of ‘hashtag diplomacy’ but two weeks passed with no search until #BringBackOurGirls dominated global media. Now at least 10 countries are involved in the rescue efforts, and the Nigerian government has now adopted a World At School’s proposal for safe schools. As we implement the plan I will make sure that respect for teenage girls is part of this plan with a pathway to better options as mothers themselves in the future.

Meanwhile, the White Ribbon Alliance has grown a network of tens of thousands of advocates around the world which turns up the volume on women’s issues so that political decision makers cannot ignore them.

What is new is the growing movement of young people who just won’t wait any more. Girls in parts of the world like Afghanistan and Nigeria know that girls in other parts of the world have opportunities that they don’t have. And girls who do have opportunities – here in London – know about girls who don’t.

The issue of maternal mortality is so much about women’s rights: it is about girls’ entitlement to decent healthcare, to equal status in their communities and the chance to fulfill their potential through education. It is about girls and women having the right to choose who they marry, when they have children and knowing that they can do so with access to good medical care."

Midwives for Afghanistan

“Eight years ago, in 2006, a passionately committed group of midwives first asked to affiliate to the White Ribbon Alliance. Since then, facing personal death threats and constant conflict, led by Pashtoon Afzhar of the Afghan Midwives Association, the White Ribbon network has built a firm base of over 3000 members and is planning to launch a new White Ribbon Alliance Afghanistan by the end of the year, becoming part of the international group advocating for change and accountability.”

Case study – why education and training is so crucial if Millennium Development Goal 5 is to be achieved and women better served.

A story from a trainee midwife in Afghanistan in her own words and shared by Sarah Brown at the event

‘My mother died in childbirth 20 years ago. My father re-married and my step-mother happened to be a midwife. When I saw her help pregnant women, I wished that one day I could also help women to give birth. With the support of my family, I came to Maidan Shar (capital of Wardak Province, Central East Afghanistan) and participated in the entry exam. When I succeeded, I was so happy and finally I could go to Wardak and start my studies. I found many friends in the school, studied hard and achieved good grades in the school exams. I felt like a bird, happy and free to fly in the sky. I had reached my goal of soon becoming a midwife.

One day all students went home to celebrate a religious holiday. But when we came back we were all shocked. We used to have a beautiful hostel, a school, library, computer lab and a beautiful garden with trees and green grass. But all had changed to dust after a bomb had exploded. I went to where my hostel room was, to find the cabinet I had kept my books and the poems I had written for my mother, I was searching for it in the dust but I couldn’t find anything, only a few charred pieces of blue curtain were left. I felt that my flight had stopped in the sky, my wings had been broken, I felt myself like a bird without wings, I felt pain and was about to lose hope.

I asked our school coordinator, ‘Is it possible our school will reopen?’ She told me ‘Don’t’ worry, God is kind, the school will be open soon.’ And sure enough, after a few short weeks the school was reopened. We were all so happy. Finally the day arrived when I successfully completed my education. The student’s graduation day was in a beautiful hotel on top of a hill in Wardak. The students looked so beautiful, their families were very proud of their daughters.

Soon I will be helping mothers in rural and remote areas of Wardak Province giving birth to another generation of Afghan girls and boys. Our midwifery trainer told me that I am now a white coated angel. That makes me proud and humble all at the same time.'

ENDS A Royal Society of Medicine Global Health Alert Post-event media briefing

Meeting: Delivering the right to a safe and dignified birth: The role of the world’s midwives Date: Tuesday 13 May 2014 at the Royal Society of Medicine Speakers: Sarah Brown, Global Champion of the White Ribbon Alliance Dr Ghazna Siddiqui, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Founder of ‘Friends of White Ribbon’ for South Asia. Professor Lesley Page, President, Royal College of Midwives and Past President of the RSM’s Maternity & the Newborn Forum Chair: Dr Penelope Law, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, author of ‘Expecting a Baby’.

Notes for editors Pictures of Sarah Brown delivering her speech at the RSM on Tuesday 13 May 2014 are available from Katy Woods kwoods@whiteribbonalliance.org

Contacts: Brigid McConville, Director, White Ribbon Alliance, mobile +44 7746 592622

Rosalind Dewar, Media Manager, Royal Society of Medicine, mobile +44 7785 182732

About the White Ribbon Alliance

No woman or girl should die in pregnancy, childbirth or in the days just after when both mother and baby are at their most vulnerable – yet having a baby is still the biggest killer of young women in many countries. We have made great progress with deaths down by half, but now is the time for the final push. Women have a right to the health care that keeps them safe. We know it can be done; join us to make sure it is. Please add your voice, become a member and support our work: www.whiteribbonalliance.org facebook.com/whiteribbonalliance @WRAglobal www.whiteribbonalliance.org/donate

About the Royal Society of Medicine

The Royal Society of Medicine is one of the UK’s major providers of accredited postgraduate medical education. Each year, the RSM organises over 400 academic and public events, spanning 60 areas of special interest, providing a multi-disciplinary forum for discussion and debate. The Society’s Global Health programme aims to promote educational innovation, stimulate the medical profession to engage in global health issues and to develop partnerships with key institutions. The Society is not a policy-making body and does not issue guidelines or standards of care. www.rsm.ac.uk